Explain the symbolism in the short story "The Beautiful Suit" by H.G. Wells. What is the meaning of the story?

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beateach | Elementary School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

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There are a number of distinct symbols in H.G. Wells’ short story “The Beautiful Suit” that contribute to its meaning.

The most obvious symbol is the “beautiful suit” itself. The mother insists the little man reserve the suit for special occasions, and she goes to great lengths to teach him how to fold it and preserve it in pristine condition. She covers its shiny buttons and places tissue paper on spots that would show wear. The little man is limited to wearing the suit to church on Sundays that are perfect. He dreams of wearing the suit but respects his mother’s wishes.

But his mother told him "No." She told him he must take great care of his suit, for never would he have another nearly so fine; he must save it and save it, and only wear it on rare and great occasions.

The suit symbolizes waiting for the perfect moment to experience life. The little man pines away waiting for the perfect opportunity to wear what was supposed to be his wedding suit, while life passes him by. Instead of living a life filled with adventure and abandon, he waits for that ultimate moment. H.G. Wells implies that moment comes when it is too late to enjoy life because one never knows when it will end.

The night the little man wakes and has a feeling he needs to put on his suit is bathed in an exquisite moonlight. Moonlight and the moon are symbolic in literature. They speak of the passage of time, movement toward eternity, and are associated with immortality. Not only was the moon shining brightly the night he awoke with the need to wear the suit, but the sky was alight with stars, alluding to celestial beings.

Another symbol that Wells uses is the color silver. He describes the ponds as "bowl of silver moonshine," and the duck weed in the pond as "streaming silver." Again, silver is a symbol of fluidity, change, and movement.

Beyond the hedge he came to the duck-pond, or at least to what was the duck-pond by day. But by night it was a great bowl of silver moonshine all noisy with singing frogs, of wonderful silver moonshine twisted and clotted with strange patternings, and the little man ran down into its waters between the thin black rushes, knee-deep and waist-deep and to his shoulders, smiting the water to black and shining wavelets with either hand, swaying and shivering wavelets, amidst which the stars were netted in the tangled reflections of the brooding trees upon the bank.

The little man finally wore the suit without abandon on that night as he climbed out his moonlit window, and trudged through the hedge and the pond, into the field where he died. He was found dead in the precious suit. Before his death, he was happy he wore the suit, but in the end, it was saved for a special occasion. Instead of being his wedding suit, it was a death suit. His suit was ruined, but he had saved it for the ultimate ending; he died happy.

But his face was a face of such happiness that, had you seen it, you would have understood indeed how that he had died happy, never knowing that cool and streaming silver for the duckweed in the pond.


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